Tim Vaughan is hoping Le Milos can continue his progression at Doncaster on Saturday after vetoing Cheltenham and the Midlands National in favour of the Virgin Bet Grimthorpe Chase.
The seven-year-old has run twice this season and won on both occasions, taking a three-mile handicap chase by seven and a half lengths at Exeter on New Year’s Day and then striking at Sandown early last month.
Raised 4lb to a mark of 143 as a result of the latter triumph, the bay will carry 11st 8lb for the three-mile-two-furlong Doncaster feature.
“Every day he’s getting better and better and he’s in great form at home,” said Vaughan.
“I’m super happy with him, he’s in a good place and I think it makes a good amount of sense to go here and we’re looking forward to it.
“I suppose we’ve just found his niche in life with a bit of age and a bit more maturity, three miles, soft ground and fences – it all seems to be making him tick.”
Vaughan is happy with the handicapper’s estimation of Les Milos’ ability after he was raised to a career-high mark following the Sandown success.
“In the scheme of things I think it was a nice race, the runner-up (Deise Aba) is a nice horse that had come in second in two previous runs, so it’s probably appropriate for the ability he showed on the day,” the trainer said.
“I don’t feel we need to grumble on that, we’ve just got to take our chance now.”
The Doncaster race comes in place of a tilt at a Cheltenham handicap or the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, with Vaughan feeling the latter event may have come too early in Les Milos’ career.
“We did think about the Midlands National and we did think about going to Cheltenham, but we just took the view that this is a nice step up in trip, it’s only an extra two furlongs,” he said.
“He is only seven and I thought the Midlands National might be a bit gruelling for him at this stage.
“Four miles and very soft ground is probably next year’s job, we can look at things like Welsh Nationals alongside Midlands Nationals and Eiders and things like that then.”
Mister Malarky makes his first start for trainer Richard Bandey after switching from the Dorset yard of Colin Tizzard earlier in the season.
A previous graded and Listed winner over fences, the chestnut has run disappointingly three times this term but connections are hoping a change of scenery might spark a return to form.
“He seems very well, he’s bouncing – we worked him at the weekend and were very happy with what he did,” Bandey said.
“He’s been through the woods and he was bouncing about the place so hopefully he’s in good form and the race pans out well for him.”
Bandey opted against running the nine-year-old in the Coral Trophy at Kempton last weekend, a Grade Three event the horse landed in 2020.
He said: “I’m glad we didn’t go for last weekend, this is his first run for us and our first chance to work out were he is really, fingers crossed.”
Sam Thomas will be represented by Powerstown Park, who has won twice this season since stepping up to a staying trip in excess of three miles.
Both of those successes came on good ground and Thomas is therefore hoping conditions do not become too testing on Town Moor.
“We’re stepping up in grade with him and we’re looking forward to running him in conditions that he likes, the ground has gone soft but hopefully it’s not as soft as it can be at other places,” he said.
“Doncaster doesn’t notoriously get too bad, but he wouldn’t want any more rain really.
“We’ll be riding him to run well, dropping him in and taking our time, he proved he does stay but we’re under no illusions that we are going up in grade.”
Jonjo O’Neill’s Cloth Cap will look to return to form having refused the last fence at Ascot when contesting the Silver Cup in December.
Prior to that the gelding was beaten when defending his Ladbrokes Trophy title at Newbury in November.
Kerry Lee runs Storm Control, a horse who was second in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January and is already twice a winner over this trip.
Dan Skelton has entered Soyouthinksoagain, who comes into the race in winning form having claimed a novice handicap chase at Catterick on his last outing, and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Undersupervision and Rebecca Curtis’ Legends Gold round off the field of eight.